Institutions of Opportunity: Using Presidents’ Narratives to Re-tell the Story of Public Regional Universities
The purpose of this qualitative study was to provide an appreciative re-telling of public regional universities (PRUs) to advance the study of postsecondary education.
Journalists, scholars, and policymakers frequently describe PRUs from a deficit perspective. The dominant narrative about PRUs influences how we prepare new higher education professionals, where faculty and staff members opt to apply (and stay), where students choose to study, how policymakers craft legislation, and where donors decide to give money.
Guided by principles of appreciative inquiry, the study features organizational narratives through interviews with 19 active presidents of PRUs.
This study underscores what is working well at PRUs—what appreciative inquiry calls the “positive core” of organizations. This positive core can be mined to advance these organizations and improve how we study postsecondary education, prepare new higher education professionals, and craft legislation.
Presidents’ narratives revealed the positive core of public regional universities, which consisted of (1) serving marginalized student populations, (2) transforming lives through student success, (3) employing mission-driven teacher-scholars, (4) prioritizing low tuition and lean management, and (5) promoting the economic and cultural welfare of the region.
This study sheds light on the need to study PRUs in higher education administration graduate programs. Additionally, re-telling the story of PRUs can influence the ways in which higher education faculty members and staff think and communicate about their institutions by identifying possible strengths they can showcase and on which they can build.
This study calls on researchers to critically evaluate the language they use to describe PRUs and the extent to which they perpetuate the dominant narrative about these institutions. It also recommends the use of appreciative inquiry as a way to understand and enhance postsecondary education institutions. Lastly, this study recommends additional scholarly attention on PRUs.
This study can elevate societal awareness of PRUs and increase public support for them. Additionally, this study can help to identify strengths at PRUs that can be leveraged to enhance these institutions and benefit the communities they serve.
This study reveals several fruitful avenues for future research, including how PRUs serve Minoritized, veteran, adult, low-income, and first-generation students, the ways in which these institutions contain costs and keep tuition low, and the role of PRUs in the geography of college opportunity.